If I had a million dollars, I’d buy a Prius?

None of this changes the fact that, for Steven Page and 27,499 other environmentally conscious consumers, Toyota is providing the car they want. Stop-gap measure or not, the Japanese giant is once again outpacing the competition and enjoying a massive public relations boon as a result.

National Post
November 21, 2003

If I had a million dollars, I’d buy a Prius?
Barenaked – and fully clothed – ladies and getns lining up for it
David Booth

Well, we now know what a Barenaked Lady would do if he actually had a million dollars. It's not bacon-wrapped sausage or even a bag full of elephant bones.

No, what Steven Page, front man for Canada's quirkiest band, wants is a brand-new, bright-red Toyota Prius. And even if the fuel-sipping gasoline/hybrid compact wasn't immortalized in the band's signature hit, Page obviously feels minimizing the damage to the environment is worth spending $29,990 of his own dollars to cut down on tailpipe emissions. Either that or he's a typical Canadian and wants to save a few pennies on gas.

That is because the combination of the Prius's diminutive, 1.5-litre, four-cylinder gasoline engine and Toyota Hybrid System electric motors uses only 4.1 litres of gas for every 100 kilometres. That is 69 miles per gallon for those still cursing Pierre Elliott Trudeau's "metrification." And since Toyota also claims the Prius "enjoys best-in-market vehicle-emissions performance," the Japanese compact is also one of the greenest cars on the planet.

This, until now, hasn't exactly been the key to financial success. After all, electric cars died an ignominious death, fuel-conscious diesels have never caught on here as they have in Europe, and earlier hybrids (notably, the previous Prius and Honda's Insight) were notoriously slow sellers.

Yet this new Prius is arguably the most sought-after car in North America. The Wall Street Journal recently polled car companies on their stock of particular models in inventory. Toyota had only five days' supply of the Prius, compared with an industry average of about 70 and a worst-car scenario for some domestic sedans of more than 120 days supply. According to Ken Tomikawa, president of Toyota Canada, Toyota can build 5,000 Priuses a month at its Tsutsumi plant, yet the company sold 27,500 to environmentally aware Europeans and North Americans in its first month. And, says Mr. Tomikawa, he could sell 500 to 1,000 a month in Canada alone.

This makes Detroit's reluctance to fully embrace hybrid technology more than just a tad curious. Ford recently announced it is delaying the introduction of its first hybrid, the Escape HEV. And General Motors is completely redoing its gasoline/electric motor program. The hybrid version of the Saturn Vue sport-cute has been delayed to 2006. It looks as if a similarly powered version of the upcoming Chevy Equinox SUV has been shelved, and GM's so-called "strong hybrid" pickups have been delayed until 2008. That leaves the world's largest automaker with only so-called "mild hybrid" pickups, which aren't really hybrids at all since their high-energy electrical system doesn't transfer any additional power to the rear wheels. (It does, however, run all the electrical accessories, thus reducing fuel consumption by 10%, says GM.)

Lest I appear overly harsh with Detroit's giant, the General is to be congratulated on its new Displacement-On-Demand (DOD) system, which deactivates four of a V8's cylinders when they are not needed. Not only does the system work seamlessly, but it significantly reduces fuel consumption. Even more impressively, GM will combine DOD-equipped engines with hybrid gasoline motors for a fuel economy improvement of 30% and performance superior to today's powerful V8s. In 2008.

Meanwhile, Toyota is going to be churning out hybrids like there's no tomorrow. Already scheduled is the Lexus RX 400H, a hybrid version of the immensely popular RX 330 that will add electric motors to the 3.3L V6 for V8-like performance with little more fuel consumption. Other models are sure to follow.

Hybrids aren't the panacea that is going to wean us all from our dependence on fossil fuels. They still use some form of gasoline engine and, therefore, have all of its pitfalls. And, as some erudite pundits have pointed out, they are much more complicated than traditional automobiles, raising some questions as to who is going to repair them in 10 years, for even Toyotas eventually break down. Not to mention they have heavy and expensive battery sets that will need replacing. And, in about 10 to 20 years, they may be obsolete if the expected hydrogen economy ever gets off the ground.

None of this changes the fact that, for Steven Page and 27,499 other environmentally conscious consumers, Toyota is providing the car they want. Stop-gap measure or not, the Japanese giant is once again outpacing the competition and enjoying a massive public relations boon as a result.

moc.tsoplanoitan|htoobd#moc.tsoplanoitan|htoobd

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